Skål beer hall to invade Ballard this July
Drink like a Viking
Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American
We all know that real Viking helmets didn’t have horns, but the minds behind Skål, a beer hall to open this summer in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, agree that they’re here to stay. The logo for the undertaking, which can be seen in the windows of what was formerly The People’s Pub, merges hops with horns for an iconic Viking look.
“I wanted to create a beer-centered place that reflects the heritage of the area,” says owner Adam McQueen, who despite his last name has both Swedish and Norwegian heritage.
The concept is part Viking hall and part craft beer showcase, a thoroughly modern take on the community spaces our distant ancestors would have gathered in. Inside the long, somewhat narrow space, remodeling is underway to open it up into one cozy whole. McQueen and business partner Lexi of Old Ballard Liquor Company were kind enough to give me a tour of their vision for the space on a clear morning this March.
Even with several walls yet to be knocked out, I was surprised how much bigger the place was than I remembered it from its People’s Pub days. Plans include an open kitchen, a horseshoe bar with room for 16, an enormous central fireplace, long tables, games, and a section for selling merchandise. Like what? Viking horn hats, of course.
The idea of community is one that comes up over and over again. There will be places to stand with your drink near the kitchen and by the windows in the back and long tables for playing board games or meeting new friends, and the front section will be family friendly.
(Worry not, agoraphobes: at least a couple of booths are also planned, because, as Lexi joked, couples on dates shouldn’t have to share a table with Viking LARPers.)
McQueen is particularly excited about using the space as a place for people to gather, speculating about the kinds of events he’d like to host. Bar trivia’s been done. Skål is more likely to have classes in things like aquavit and cheese pairings, mead making, or mushroom foraging. He told me he’d once attended a packed lecture on the latter at REI, and thought, “This would be better if I had a beer in my hand.”
And few people seem better equipped to put beer in people’s hands than McQueen. He is a veteran of the craft beer industry, including three years with Harpoon Brewing, one of the oldest craft breweries in the U.S. His work has focused on managing marketing and visitor center experiences for breweries around the country. “I love designing experiences for people that revolve around beer,” he says.
As we stood in the back of the space—future home of the bar—Lexi’s gaze drifted out the window. “I just noticed that from the right angle we have a view of the mountains,” she remarked. Indeed, the snow-capped Olympics were visible beyond the massive Pacific Fishermen shipyard, which according to McQueen also makes a lovely view when lit up at night.
The view of Salmon Bay shipyards is just one of many local connections for Skål. Both food ingredients and drinks will be sourced locally whenever possible.
Skål is talking with several local breweries, including Odin Brewing Company of Tukwila, about collaborating on special brews to mark their opening. The bar will also serve a variety of meads and wines from the region. McQueen looks forward to introducing visitors, many of whom may have only experienced sickeningly sweet mead, to the full range of what the honeyed beverage has to offer. And to sweeten the experience even more (so to speak), they’ll be served in drinking horns.
Similarly, the cocktail menu will focus on beer cocktails and those featuring aquavit, which will be largely sourced from Northwest distillers, such as Old Ballard, The Hardware Distilling Co., and Rolling River in Portland. They will also stock as many Scandinavian products as they can import. “He’s not afraid of the spirit,” Lexi says of McQueen, explaining that unlike some aquavit cocktails, theirs will be designed to show off what the spirit can do rather than mask its flavor.
The food menu is still in development, but it promises to be inspired by foods the Vikings ate. Lexi is reaching out to historians and Viking re-enactment groups for ideas about historically plausible food ideas, which will be the launch point for a contemporary interpretation that features old-fashioned favorites like grilled goose or venison, rotisserie crispy pork belly, or even whole stuffed rabbit. This won’t be your standard Renaissance Faire turkey leg, and there will also be plenty of bar snacks like deep fried potato dumplings, pretzels with dips, house-pickled herrings, and charcuterie boards featuring sausages from Scandinavian Specialties—another local connection.
(Though like all Ballardites I grew up with Scandinavian Specialties, I hadn’t known that sausages were their original business. When the original shop opened in 1962, it was primarily a neighborhood butcher shop, called The Norwegian Sausage Company.)
With Lexi moving into the chef role at Skål, I wondered what was to become of Old Ballard Liquor Co., which has become a beloved (if somewhat tucked away) destination for both aquavit and Nordic cuisine. At the time of our interview, the future of OBLC was uncertain. Washington laws regarding small distilleries are particularly hostile, and for the past two years, the café has been supporting the distillery. To help bolster the shop income during this transitional phase, OBLC is offering a 15 percent case discount (12 bottles) on all distilled products.
Of course, much of what makes Old Ballard a favorite will carry over into this new venture. In fact, Lexi admits that when McQueen first mentioned the idea of Skål to her, she felt something like jealousy about an idea she knew would be a success. “Adam is passionate about the culture, he’s supremely knowledgeable about beer, and he really cares about what the community needs. We share the same vision and the same fierce pride in representing our neighborhood correctly. I’m proud and flattered that he’s included me in this project, because I trust that he’ll do it right.”
Skål Beer Hall is scheduled to open in July at 5429 Ballard Ave. NW. An Indiegogo campaign is currently underway to raise money for the finishing touches on the beer hall, with perks ranging from an annual membership in “Beerhalla” (which provides, among other benefits, discounts on 20 oz. beers) up to a Viking pig roast for 50. You can contribute at igg.me/at/skalbeerhall.
This article originally appeared in the March 23, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.